Operation Battle of Buna and Gona

The 'Battle of Buna and Gona' was fought between Allied and Japanese forces for the latter’s beach-heads on the eastern coast of north-eastern New Guinea as part of the campaign in the South-West Pacific area (16 November 1942/22 January 1943).

The battle followed the end of the 'Campaign for the Kokoda Track', and in it Australian and US forces took the Japanese beach-head areas at Buna, Gona and Sanananda which the Japanese had seized in 'Ri' and used as the bases to support Major General Tomitaro Horii’s South Seas Detachment in the 'Campaign for the Kokoda Track', the overland advance intended to place Port Moresby in Japanese hands. The, as a result of developments in the campaign for the Solomon islands group, the Japanese force approaching Port Moresby had been instructed to withdraw to and secure these bases on the northern coast. Australian forces maintained contact with the South Seas Detachment as the Japanese conducted a well-ordered rearguard action. The Allied objective was to eject the Japanese forces from these positions and deny them their further use. The Japanese forces were skilful, well prepared and resolute in their defence, and had developed a network of strong and well-concealed defences.

Operations in Papua and New Guinea were severely hampered by a number of factors including the terrain, vegetation, weather, climate, disease and the lack of infrastructure, all of which combined to impose significant logistical limitations on each side. During the 'Campaign for the Kokoda Track', these factors impacted in essentially equal weight to each of the belligerents, but in general favoured the defender in attacks against well-fortified positions. The battlefield and logistical constraints limited the utility of the conventional Allied doctrine of manoeuvre and firepower. During the opening stages of the offensive, the Allies faced a severe shortage of food and ammunition, and this was a problem which was never wholly resolved. The battle also exposed critical problems with the suitability and performance of Allied equipment. The combat effectiveness of US forces, particularly Major General Edwin F. Harding’s US 32nd Division, has been severely criticised. These factors were compounded by the repeated demands of General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in the South-West Pacific Area, for a rapid conclusion to the battle: these demands were motivated more by political considerations in securing MacArthur’s command than by any strategic necessity. As a result, troops were frequently committed to battle on a hasty basis, and this increased Allied losses and ultimately lengthened the battle.

Allied air power interrupted the Japanese capacity to reinforce and resupply the beach-heads from Rabaul, Japan’s primary base area on New Britain island, and ultimately this rendered the Japanese position untenable. In the closing stages of the battle, significant numbers of the defenders were withdrawn by sea or escaped overland toward the west and the Japanese base farther to the north around Salamaua and Lae, while the remaining garrison fought to the death, almost to the man.

The resolve and tenacity of the Japanese in defence was unprecedented and had not previously been encountered. This became a feature of the desperate nature of the fighting that characterised the fighting for the remainder of the Pacific War. For the Allies, there were a number of valuable but costly lessons in the conduct of jungle warfare. Allied losses in the battle were suffered at a rate higher than that experienced on Guadalcanal, and for the first time the US public was confronted with the images of large numbers of US dead.

Japan’s entry into World War II and the war in the Pacific began with the 'Ai' carrierborne attack against Pearl Harbor in the Hawaiian islands group on 7 December 1941, which was co-ordinated with closely coinciding attacks on Thailand, the Philippine islands group, the US bases on Guam and Wake island, and the British possessions of Hong Kong, Malaya and Singapore. Japanese forces rapidly secured territory in South-East Asia, the Netherlands East Indies, and the central and south-western area of the Pacific Ocean. Australia had been shocked by the speedy collapse of the British position in Malaya and the fall of Singapore: in the latter nearly 15,000 Australian soldiers became prisoners of war along with the rest of the garrison of some 85,000 mostly British and Indian troops.

US President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered MacArthur, commanding in the Philippine islands group, to formulate a Pacific defence plan with Australia in March 1942, and the Australian prime minister, John Curtin, agreed to place Australian forces under the command of MacArthur, who became Supreme Commander, South-West Pacific Area. MacArthur moved his general headquarters to Melbourne, in the Australian state of Victoria, during March 1942.

The Japanese had taken Rabaul in 'R' on 23 January 1942, and Rabaul was then developed as the forward base for the Japanese campaigns in mainland New Guinea. Japanese forces first landed on the mainland of New Guinea on 8 March 1942 when they landed at Lae and Salamaua in 'Sr' to secure bases for the defence of the important base they were developing at Rabaul.

The Japanese 17th Army, under the command of Lieutenant General Harukichi Hyakutake, was the corps-sized formation responsible for Japanese operations in the New Guinea and Solomon islands campaigns, and the Japanese 8th Area Army, under the command of General Hitoshi Imamura, was created ar Rabaul to take overall command in the areas from 16 November 1942 with responsibility for both the New Guinea and Solomon islands campaigns. The Japanese 18th Army, under the command of Lieutenant General Hatazo Adachi, was also established to assume responsibility for Japanese operations on mainland New Guinea, leaving the 17th Army responsible for the Solomon islands group.

Despite Australian fears, the Japanese never planned to invade the Australian mainland. While such an undertaking had been considered by the Japanese Imperial General Headquarters in February 1942, it was judged to be beyond the capability of the Japanese military and no planning or other preparations were undertaken. Instead, in March 1942 the Japanese adopted a strategy of isolating Australia from the USA through the seizure of Port Moresby in the Territory of Papua, the Solomon islands group, and the Fiji, Samoa and New Caledonia island groups. The first part of this plan was 'Mo' for an amphibious landing to capture Port Moresby, the capital of the Australian Territory of Papua, but this was frustrated by the Japanese defeat in the 'Battle of the Coral Sea' and postponed indefinitely after the still greater defeat in the 'Battle of Midway'.

The Japanese then planned an overland attack to capture Port Moresby by means of an advance from the northern coast. Having already captured much of the Territory of New Guinea earlier that year, the Japanese landed in 'Ri' on 21/22 July 1942 and established beach-heads at Buna, Gona and Sanananda. This marked the beginning of the 'Campaign for the Kokoda Track', in which Horii’s South Seas Detachment advanced along the Kokoda Track to cross the rugged Owen Stanley mountain range.

As the 'Campaign for the Kokoda Track' was being fought, a Japanese invasion force of special naval landing force elements made the 'Re' attempt to capture the strategically valuable Milne Bay area in south-eastern Papua during August 1942. The 'Battle of Milne Bay', fought between 25 August and 7 September 1942, resulted in a Japanese defeat that was the first notable Japanese land reverse and raised Allied morale across the Pacific theatre.

After the Allies had identified the construction of a Japanese airfield at Guadalcanal, in a prime location for the inception of Allied convoys plying the route between the western coast of the USA and Australia, Major General Alexander A. Vandegrift’s US 1st Marine Division was landed on the island in Watchtower on 7 August 1942 to capture the airfield. The battle lasted until 9 February 1943 and was a bruising campaign that was strongly contested on land, at sea and in the air.

On New Guinea, by 16 September Horii’s force had advanced as far as Ioribaiwa, 20 miles (32 km) from Port Moresby and thus close enough to see the town’s lights. However, in light of reverses at Guadalcanal, which the Japanese deemed to be more important, Hyakutake determined he could not support both battles, and on 23 September he instructed Horii to withdraw his troops on the Kokoda Track until the issue at Guadalcanal had been decided. Only limited provision had been made for the supply of Horii’s force, which had now reached the point of crisis, and there were also concerns that Allied forces might land at Buna at any time.

On 26 September, the Japanese began to withdraw. They fought a well-ordered rearguard action back over the Owen Stanley mountain range, with Major General A. S. Allen’s Australian 7th Division in close pursuit. Harding’s US 32nd Division, comprising indifferently trained National Guard units, had been sent to New Guinea in September and was ordered to make a circling move against the Japanese eastern flank near Wairopi. This move got under way on 14 October. These Allied plans were rendered ineffectual by the rate of the Japanese withdrawal, but it left the division well positioned to co-ordinate its advance on the beach-heads with the Australian forces approaching from the south-west.

Allen was controversially relieved of command of the 7th Division on 28 October and replaced by Major General G. A. Vasey, previously commander of the 6th Division. Horii’s force had been severely depleted by its lack of supplies, but at Oivi it was replenished and reinforced. The Japanese nonetheless suffered heavy casualties in the battle around Oivi and Gorari between 4 and 11 November, and the well-ordered withdrawal that had been planned quickly disintegrated into a rout. The 7th Division was now about 40 miles (65 km) from Buna and Gona, and although experience demanded caution, the way before the Australians was clear of Japanese forces.

The beach-heads from which the South Seas Detachment had launched the 'Campaign for the Kokoda Track' were located about three key positions along a 16-mile (25-km) stretch of the northern coast of New Guinea: Gona to the west, Buna to the east and Sanananda-Giruwa in the centre. About 100 miles (160 km) to the north-east of Port Moresby, the beach-head areas approximate to the most direct line from there to the northern coast. The settlements are located on a thin coastal strip that separates the sea from a tidal forest swamp of mangroves, nipa and sago. Rivers flowing across the broad, flat coastal plain from the Owen Stanley mountain range disappear into the swamps and discharge to the sea through many coastal creeks. The coastal strip is rarely more than a few hundred yards wide at maximum, to little more than a foot pad separating the swamp from the sea. The few paths through the swamp were seldom more than 12 ft (3.7 m) wide. The area is low-lying and featureless, and Buna airstrip is 5 ft (1.5 m) above sea level. The elevation is only double this at Soputa, 7.5 miles (12 km) inland and 280 ft (85 m) at Popondetta, 13 miles (21 km) inland. The water table is shallow at about 3 ft (0.9 m), and this affected the digging of weapons pits and construction of defensive positions. Areas not waterlogged were either dense jungle or swathes of kunai grass. Coconut plantations filled the wider areas of dry ground along the coastal strip but had been neglected and undergrowth had reclaimed the ground. The dense kunai grass could grow to 6 ft (1.85 m) and its leaves are broad and sharp. Temperatures over the period of the battle ranged from 72 to 89° F (22 to 32° C) but with a humidity of 82% this could be truly oppressive. In the humid conditions, the kunai grass trapped the heat and it was not uncommon for temperatures to reach 122° F (50° C).

The battle was fought during the wet season, when the average rainfall in December is 14.5 in (368 mm), although this figure does not in itself produce any full appreciation of the impact of rain. It was characterised by heavy tropical storms, usually in the afternoon. While the worst of the monsoon held off until after the battle, rain was nonetheless a prevalent feature of the battle. Lieutenant General Robert L. Eichelberger, who was soon to command the 32nd Division as a major general, wrote that 'At Buna that year it rained about a hundred and seventy inches [4320 mm]. I have found out since that we got more than our share in December and January 1942.' Daily rainfall totals of 8 to 10 in (203 to 254 mm) were not uncommon. In such conditions the few tracks, seldom more than foot trails, quickly became boggy.

The area was one of the most malarial regions in the world, and while malaria was the greatest disease threat, other tropical diseases, such as dengue fever, scrub typhus, tropical ulcers, dysentery from a range of causes, and fungal infections were also very common. The impact of and susceptibility to disease was exacerbated by a poor and insufficient diet.

While the Australian army had encountered malaria in the Middle East, few doctors with the militia units had seen the disease before reaching New Guinea. Supplies of quinine, which was still the primary drug in use, were unreliable. Atebrin only became the official suppressive drug used by the Australian forces in late December 1942 and the change to its use was not immediate. The need for a strict anti-malaria programme was not fully understood: many officers saw this as a medical rather than a disciplinary issue and did not compel their men to take their medicine. It was also common for Australian soldiers to wear shorts and shirts with rolled sleeves in response to the oppressive heat, leaving large area of skin vulnerable to mosquito bites. Mosquito nets and repellent were in short supply, and the repellent that was supplied was considered ineffective. It has been stated that between 85 and 95% of all Allied soldiers in the area carried malaria during the battle, and the hospitalisation rate from disease was 4.8 men to each battle casualty. After he had relieved Harding, Eichelberger gave orders to take the temperature of an entire company near the front. Every member of that company was running a fever, but of necessity many men remained in the front line with fevers up to 104° F (40° C).

For Allied and Japanese forces, the 'Battle of Buna and Gona' was determined largely by logistics and limitations of supply. As they approached the beach-heads, the Allied forces had to rely on air drops, but in these there was a high rate of loss and breakage, often of up to 50%. From almost the outset of the battle, the Allies faced critical shortages of ammunition and rations. Once the Allied forces had formed up on the Japanese positions, landing strips were quickly developed to support the engaging forces, but while this eliminated the losses associated with air drops, the supply situation was consistently compromised by poor weather over the air route and a lack of transport aircraft.

A sea route was gradually surveyed to nearby Oro Bay, which was to be developed as a port in support of the Allied operations. The first large vessel to deliver supplies to Oro Bay was the 2,190-ton Free Dutch Karsik on the night 11/12 December. After this, regular convoys began in 'Lilliput', which greatly increased the tonnage of matériel supplied to the Allied forces, but much of it was consumed by increases in the size of the force and the level of supply never reached the point at which it ceased to be an 'extraordinarily difficult problem'.

The Japanese fighting along the Kokoda Track faced the same logistical problems as the Australians but lacked the benefit of air supply to any significant extent. Stocks of rice and other foodstuffs identified at Gona when it was captured on 8 December suggest that the garrison had been well provisioned at the start of the battle. The Japanese positions had been supplied by sea from Rabaul but attempts at the start of the battle to land troops and supplies from destroyers were only partly successful. Allied air power over Rabaul and over the beachheads curtailed the Japanese use of surface ships for supply. Some troops and equipment destined for Buna and Gona were landed near the mouth of the Mambare river, and then reinforcements and supplies were moved by barge to the beach-heads. Some supplies were landed from submarines, although size and travel time dictated that these quantities were necessarily small, and it was on the night of 25 December that a Japanese submarine unloaded the final shipment of supplies and ammunition at Buna Government Station. The Japanese made only the most limited use of aircraft to deliver supplies to the Japanese at Buna and Gona.

The Japanese soldier’s standard rice ration was 28 oz (800 g), and constituted the bulk of the man’s ration. At the end of December, each man received around 15.9 oz (450 g) of rice per day, but this was reduced to between 1.75 to 3.5 oz (50 to 100 g) early in January. There was no food for the period between 8 and 12 January, and by the time of the battle’s end on 22 January, the garrison had been virtually starved into submission and there was evidence that the Japanese had resorted to cannibalising the dead.

The Japanese positions in the Buna and Gona area were occupied by both army and navy units. The naval units included the 5th Yokosuka Special Landing Force. Forces withdrawing along the Kokoda Track added to the strength of the original garrison. Many survivors of the 'Campaign for the Kokoda Track' congregated to the west, near the mouth of the Kumusi river and linked with Japanese reinforcements landed there early in December. This force actively threatened the western flank of the Australians at Gona. Sources generally quote the Japanese effective strength at the start of the battle as 5,500 or 6,500 men after reinforcement on the night of 18 November, and sources give the total of Japanese deployed to Buna and Gona or operating to the west in the vicinity of the Kumusi and Membare rivers as between 11,000 and 12,000 men.

Between 1,000 and 1,500 troops were landed by destroyer on 17 and 18 November, just before the Allies reached the beach-head positions. One account records the landing at Basabua, just to the east of Gona, of 800 reinforcements for the South Seas Detachment on the evening of 21 November. On 29 November some 400 to 500 of the troops who had withdrawn along the Kumusi river and concentrated near its mouth were moved by barge to Sanananda.

The position at Buna to the Girua river was held by between 2,000 and 2,500 troops under the command of a naval officer, Captain Yoshitatsu Yasuda. Gona was held by between 800 and 900 defenders under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Yoshinobu Tomita. Sources record that the Japanese forces in front of Sanananda numbered between 4,000 and 5,500 men, including troops in hospital, under the command of Colonel Yosuke Yokoyama. Defenders on the Sanananda track are included as part of the strength of the Sanananda-Giruwa position, and between 1,700 and 1,800 men held the defences on the track.

Four more attempts were made by Japanese destroyer convoys to reinforce the beach-heads. Convoys on 28 November and 9 December were turned back by air attacks; a convoy on 2 December, after an aborted attempt at Basabua, landed about 500 troops, mainly of the 3/170th Regiment, near the mouth of the Kumusi river; and on 12 December 800 troops, mainly of the 1/170 Regiment, were landed near the mouth of the Mambare river farther along the coast. Part of this force was moved to reinforce the 3/170 Regiment operating against the flank at Gona, and between 700 and 800 men reached Giruwa from 26 to 31 December.

Horii, who had led the attack along the Kokoda Track, drowned at sea on 19 November after rafting down the Kumusi river during the withdrawal from Kokoda, and command of the South Seas Detachment was assumed on a temporary basis by Yokoyama pending the arrival of Major General Kensaku Oda. Major General Tsuyuo Yamagata commanded the 21st Independent Mixed Brigade and was given command of all 18th Army units in the area other than the South Seas Detachment: Yamagata landed near the Kumusi river on 2 December and reached Gona on 6 December, when he was given command of the Japanese units engaged in the battle.

The Japanese defensive positions at Buna, Gona and forward at the Sanananda track junction had been strongly developed before the arrival of Allied forces. They have been described as some of the strongest encountered by the Allies in the course of the war, and made excellent use of the terrain, which limited the tactical possibilities for attackers and took the form of hundreds of bunkers and machine gun emplacements developed in depth. Individual positions were mutually supporting and alternative positions were used to confound attackers. From south-east to north-west, the Japanese positions were that round Buna, the largest of the three and extending from the Duropa Plantation to Buna Village; that round Giruwa and Sanananda Point, the second largest of the three; and that round Gona, the smallest of the three.

The Allied advance on the Japanese positions at Buna and Gona was made Brigadier J. E. Lloyd’s 16th Brigade and Brigadier K. W. Eather’s 25th Brigade of the Australian 7th Division, and the 126th Infantry and 128th Infantry of the US 32nd Division. During the course of the battle, another four infantry brigades, two infantry regiments and an armoured squadron of 19 M3 Stuart light tanks were deployed.

The Australian units were generally well below establishment, but the US forces arrived on the battlefield with a force much closer to establishment. The Papuan Infantry Battalion patrolled in the vicinity for Japanese stragglers from the 'Campaign for the Kokoda Track' but was not engaged directly in the battle. The contribution of Papuans engaged as labourers or porters was a significant part of the Allied logistic effort, and more than 3,000 Papuans worked to support the Allies during the battle.

Significant criticism has been levelled at the combat effectiveness of US troops, specifically the 32nd Division, within the US command and in subsequent histories. A lack of training is most often cited in defence of their performance, and it should be noted that the same criticism has also be levelled by some analysts on the Australian militia units engaged in the battle, although some of these units had the benefit of a leavening of experienced junior officers posted to them from the 2nd Australian Imperial Force.

Before the Allied forces arrived on the Buna and Gona coast, Richard K. Sutherland, then major general and MacArthur’s chief-of-staff, had referenced the Japanese coastal fortifications as 'hasty field entrenchments', and the strength and combat effectiveness of the Japanese defenders were both severely underestimated. Maps of the area were inaccurate and lacked detail. Aerial photographs were not generally available to commanders in the field.

The Allied command had failed to make effective provision for the supply of artillery and armour, believing quite mistakenly that air support could replace them. Allied commanders in the field were unable to provide fire support capable of suppressing Japanese positions sufficient for infantry to close with and overwhelm them. Logistical limitations constrained efforts to make good these deficiencies.

Scanty and inaccurate intelligence led MacArthur to believe that Buna could be taken with relative ease, and MacArthur never visited the front during the campaign. He had no understanding of the conditions faced by his commanders and their men, yet continued to interfere and pressure them to achieve unrealistic results. Terrain and persistent pressure for haste meant that there was little, if any, time given for reconnaissance. MacArthur’s pressure has been described as lengthening the battle and increasing the number of casualties.

The 'Battle of Buna and Gona' began on 16 November as the Australian 7th Division crossed the Kumusi river about 40 miles (65 km) from the beach-heads, in pursuit of the withdrawing Japanese forces. On the eve of 19 November, the 25th Brigade was advancing toward Gona, along the track from Jumbora, while the 16th Brigade was advancing toward Sanananda on the track from Soputa. The US 126th Infantry (less its 1st Battalion) was placed under command of the 7th Division to protect its eastern flank. The 32nd Division was approaching Buna along the coastal route and along the track from Simemi. Harding prepared to attack positions at the eastern end of the Buna defences in the vicinity of the landing strip and the plantation. Attacks were launched on 19 November, using the 1/128th Infantry and 3/128th Infantry. On the same day, the 25th Brigade, approaching Gona, made contact with defended positions placed along its line of advance. The 16th Brigade, approaching Sanananda, made contact on the following day.

Up to that point, there had been only limited and light contact with the Japanese as the Australians approached the beach-heads, and it had been much the same for the 32nd Division. This situation quickly changed as the attacking forces met with stiff resistance. The conventional doctrine of manoeuvre and fire support was negated by the terrain, a lack of heavy weapons and supply shortages. Difficulties were compounded by the determination of the Japanese fighting from well-prepared defensive positions. Despite repeated attacks over the next two weeks, the Allies made little progress and were faced with mounting casualties. The conditions have been likened to a 'tropical vignette of the trench warfare conditions of the earlier war'.

The 2/126th Infantry was returned to the 32nd Division on 22 November, while the 3/126th Infantry was tasked to secure the Soputa-Sanananda-Cape Killerton track junction, to the front of the 16th Brigade. On 30 November, after nearly a week of indecisive skirmishing through the bush, the position which was to become known as 'Huggins' Roadblock' was established on the Sanananda track, just to the south of the second Cape Killerton track junction. The position was manned by these occupiers until relieved on 22 December by the 39th Battalion. Wedged between the Japanese positions astride the track, it compromised the line of communication to the forward Japanese positions, but its own position was equally tenuous. The Japanese forward positions were enveloped but not sealed.

By a concentration of reinforcements, the Japanese position at Gona was finally cleared on the morning of 9 December. The position was threatened by Japanese forces which had landed at the mouth of the Kumusi river and fighting continued west of Gona Creek for some time.

Attacking the Buna area from both flanks, US forces entered Buna Village on 14 December but a virtual stalemate had meanwhile developed on the eastern flank. This was relieved by the arrival of Brigadier G. F. Wootten’s Australian 18th Brigade and Stuart tanks of 2/6th Armoured Regiment. With an attack on 18 December, steady progress followed and by 3 January, the Buna area, as far as the Girua river, had been cleared.

The Australian 7th Division continued to exert pressure on the forward Japanese positions astride the Sanananda track but without achieving any decisive result, despite the arrival of reinforcements and the redeployment units that had been fighting at Gona. Figures prepared by the headquarters of the 7th Division showed that between 25 November and 23 December, the formation had received 4,273 troops to replace 5,905 lost from all causes. Thus Vasey’s force was about 1,632 men weaker than it had been at the outset. As December closed, there was no prospect of the division being reinforced by further Australian units, but the 163rd Infantry of Major General Horace H. Fuller’s US 41st Division had been ordered to New Guinea and arrived at Port Moresby on 27 December, to be placed under command of 7th Division. After the fall of Buna, the 32nd Division was to advance on the main Sanananda position from the east.

On 12 January, the Japanese positions south of Huggins' were attacked without success by the 18th Brigade, but the problem of the forward positions on the main track was resolved by the Japanese withdrawal over the next two nights starting on 12 January, and the positions had been occupied by the evening of 14 January. The 18th Brigade advanced quickly on Cape Killerton and then Sanananda. A link was established with the 32nd Division at Giruwa on 21 January. The battle concluded on 22 January, but there were still many Japanese roaming the area.

The Japanese had planned to evacuate the area, but this thinking was overtaken by the rate of the Allied advance. About 1,200 sick and wounded men were evacuated by sea between 13 and 20 January, on the latter date Yamagata ordered an evacuation and on the night of 21 January large portions of the force still remaining in the area began to break away in accordance with their orders. About 1,000 escaped overland to an area to the west of Gona, though Japanese sources suggest this may have been as great as 1,900 men.

The Buna area, which was to be taken by the 32nd Division, stretched from the Duropa Plantation in the south-east to Buna Village, at the mouth of the Girua river, in the north-west along a strip of coast about 5,700 yards (5210 m) long. The Girua river formed the 32nd Division’s operational boundary with the 7th Division. The firmer ground and defended positions were widest at each end, about 1,600 yards (1465 m) at the eastern end and a little less at the other end. With a narrower strip in between these ends, the Buna area bore some some resemblance to a dog’s bone. The inland side of the eastern end was defined by two landing strips. The Old Strip ran essentially parallel with the coast and with Simemi Creek, which flows along the seaward edge of the strip. This creek was an obstacle for attacking troops. Dispersal bays had been constructed at the eastern end of the Old Strip and along the seaward side. While not actually joined, the two strips formed a wide corner with the Simemi Creek passing between the two strips. A bridge on the track to Simemi crossed the Simeni Creek there. The bridge was 125 ft (38 m) long and had a section blown from one end. The New Strip was actually a decoy strip, and had been created on ground unsuitable for development as a landing strip. The Duropa Plantation occupied most of the ground around Cape Endaiadere to the north of the eastern end of the New Strip. A track approached Cape Endaiadere along the coast from Hariko to the south-east.

At the eastern end, the Japanese occupied the Duropa Plantation, from the New Strip, blocking the approach by the coastal route. They also blocked the approach from Simemi, with positions forward of the bridge. At the western end of the Buna area, a track led from Buna Village and the Buna Government Station inland to Ango. The position that came to be known as the Triangle was a salient protruding from the Japanese defensive line. It straddled the track just inland of the point at which the track branched to either the village or the Government Station. The latter has sometimes been mentioned, incorrectly, as the Buna Mission. Entrance Creek separated the Government Station from the village. On the track to the village, a foot bridge crossed Entrance Creek a short distance from the track junction. The 'Coconut Grove' lay along the track to Buna Village, after crossing Entrance Creek. To the north-east of the Triangle was the open area of the government gardens, which had formerly been cultivated. The Government Plantation, a coconut grove, occupied the area round the Government Station and the thin coastal strip to the east, as far as the mouth of the Simemi Creek and the western end of the Old Strip. Giropa Point is about halfway between the Government Station and the mouth of Simemi Creek; Giropa Creek discharges to the sea on the western side of Giropa Point.

On 18 November, the 32nd Division was approaching the Buna positions. The 1/128th Infantry was nearing the Duropa Plantation along the coastal path. The 1/126th Infantry, with the 2/6th Independent Company and a detached company of the 128th Battalion were well behind following the same route and arrived on 20 November. The 3/128th Infantry was approaching the strips on the track from Semime with the 2//128th Infantry close behind. The other two battalions of the 126th Infantry were at Inoda, well inland, and had been tasked to engage the western flank of the Buna position. On 19 November, these two battalions were placed under command of the 7th Division, by order of Lieutenant General Sir Edmund Herring, heading the New Guinea Force, who was in immediate command of the two divisions. This was to concentrate maximum force against the main Japanese position around Sanananda. The two Australian brigades had been substantially depleted by the fighting along the Kokoda Track and were currently at about one-third of their establishment strength. Harding was put out by this decision. Not only did it alienate a large part of his command but it meant a major adjustment to his plans just as he was about to engage the Japanese. The left-flank task was reassigned to the 2/128th Infantry. This left the 1/126th Infantry, well to the rear, as the only reserve. Movement between the two flanks entailed a two-day march.

With only two mountain howitzers in support, Harding proceeded with the attack of 19 November on the eastern flank. The attacks were met with intense fire from the Japanese defenders and quickly faltered without gaining any ground. The early movements of battalions blurred the assignment of tasks against the eastern and western flanks on the basis of regimental commands. The force attacking the Japanese western flank was designated Urbana Force. The concentration to the east, around Cape Endaiadere and the two strips, was designated Warren Force. On the following day, another attack was pressed with support from bombers and the mountain howitzers: about 100 yards (91 m) was gained on the coastal strip, but the 3/128th Infantry was still held up in front of the bridge.

An attack on 21 November was to be a maximum effort. The 1/126th Infantry and the 2/6th Independent Company had arrived and were committed to the attack between the coast and the eastern end of the New Strip, the 1/128th Infantry against the coast, the 1/126th Infantry in the centre and the 2/6th Independent Company on the left at the eastern end of the strip. Three bombing missions had been ordered in support of the attack, but the orders for the attack had not been received before the first mission in the morning, the second mission was cancelled due to weather, and the attack proceeded with the third mission, which arrived at 15.57. Both bombing missions caused Allied casualties (10 men killed and 14 wounded), failed to neutralise the Japanese positions, and disrupted the attackers. Thus the attack resulted in no appreciable gain by the forces at either end of the New Strip.

By 26 November, artillery support for the division had increased from the two mountain howitzers to include six 25-pdr gun/howitzers. Warren Force was to concentrate its efforts against the eastern end of the New Strip. On 22 November, the 3/128th Infantry was moved to that area, leaving a company to guard the Simemi Track. The front was adjusted, with 3/128th Infantry taking the right, seaward flank. The 1/126th Infamtry remained in the centre with the 2/6th Independent Company to its left. Here, the coast ran south to north toward Cape Endaiadere so that the advance’s axis toward the cape was to the north. The 1/128th Infantry was positioned behind the 1/126th Infantry, and was tasked to move through the 1/128th Infantry to the west, along the edge of the New Strip. The 1/128th Infantry was to advance to the north-west and the 3/128th Infantry to the north. With the attackers moving on three different axes, the plan was perhaps altogether too complex.

The attack was preceded by strafing undertaken by Curtiss P-40 single-engined fighters and Bristol Beaufighter twin-engined heavy fighters, while Douglas A-20 twin-engined attack bombers attacked the rear. In all, some 50 aircraft were involved. This was followed by a 30-minute artillery bombardment. The massed fire failed to suppress the Japanese position and the attack was met with heavy fire. The advance of the 1/126th Infantry was misdirected, opening a gap in the left flank, and the battalion was recalled to seal the flank. The attack ended without significant gain as Japanese aircraft from Lae strafed the US infantrymen. An attack on 30 November was to coincide with one by Urbana Force. While the 1/126th Infantry made some progress along the axis of the new strip, the day again ended without significant progress. Through the course of these events, some limited gains had been made by small attacks and infiltration. Even so, MacArthur became increasingly impatient with Harding’s efforts and the lack of progress by the 32nd Division.

The 2/128th Infantry, advancing along the track from Ango, made contact with the Japanese defenders at about 12.00 on 21 November. Reconnoitring the flanks, the Americans plunged into a tangled swamp. The 2/126th Infantry was released by the 7th Division on 11 November and linked with the 2/128th Infantry during the morning of 23 November. An attack on the following day was pressed by these battalions against the flanks and front of the Triangle with the aid of artillery and bombing, but the latter did not take place, and an Allied fighter inadvertently strafed the force headquarters. The right flank emerged from the swamp and moved about 200 yards (185 m) across open kunai before being caught in the open and subjected to heavy fire. The left and centre fared little better, and made no gain. Urbana Force concentrated its efforts against the left flank.

The plan for 30 November was to attack on a wide front from the apex of the Triangle toward Buna Village, having first paralleled the Japanese defences. Little real headway was made against the defenders but at the end of the day, E Company of the 2/126th Infantry was short of the village by about 100 yards (91 m) and F Company of the 2/128th Infantry had made a wide flanking move to reach Siwori Village, cutting land communication between Buna and Sanananda. By this time, the 32nd Division’s losses had reached 492 men. The following day saw an attempt against the village with some minor success. Although the main attack faltered, G Company if the 2/126th Infantry advanced to Entrance Creek after clearing a command post and several bunkers.

After an inspection on 2 December, Eichelberger relieved Harding, replacing him with the division’s artillery commander, Brigadier General Albert W. Waldron. Eichelberger also removed all the regimental commanders and most of the battalion commanders, and ordered immediate improvements in food and medical supplies. Through the moves to the beach-heads and during the fighting the division had become badly intermixed, with many companies separated from their parent battalions, so Eichelberger halted operations on the Buna front for two days to allow units to reorganise. Eichelberger also embarked on the process of restoring the men’s flagging confidence, conspicuously wearing the three stars of his rank on his collar among the front-line troops, ignoring the convention of removing insignia at the front so as to not attract enemy fire. Eichelberger and his staff regularly came under fire, once from a distance as short as 15 yards (13.75 m), but he insisted on being present with his forward troops to urge them in their efforts. He expected the same leadership from his officers at every level. Waldron was injured on 5 December as he accompanied Eichelberger near the front, and was replaced by Brigadier General Clovis E. Byers. An article in Time magazine from September 1945 records that 'some of the 32nd's officers privately denounced Eichelberger as ruthless, Prussian. The men of the 32nd…called their division cemetery ''Eichelberger Square''.'

On 5 December, Urbana Force pressed an attack on Buna Village from the south with four companies. P-40 fighter-bombers supported by attacking the station in order to disrupt any attempt to reinforce the village. The attacks by the flank companies faltered while the centre advanced with limited success.

Leading a force of 18 other men of 126th Infantry’s Company H, Staff Sergeant Bottcher drove through to the sea and held his position, before being relieved, for seven days in which he lost six of his men and was himself twice wounded. Bottcher had turned the tide of the battle at Buna. His platoon’s efforts had cut off the Japanese in Buna Village from supply and reinforcement, being already isolated on the western flank. It provided the impetus for the ultimate capture of the village. Bottcher was awarded a battlefield commission to the rank of captain.

On this same day, Bren Gun Carriers spearheaded an unsuccessful attack on the Warren Force’s front. Subsequent actions on the Urbana Force’s front were to consolidate the gain made by Bottcher. For the next week, activity on both flanks at Buna was limited mainly to infiltration and harassing artillery fire. On 11 December, the 3/127th Infantry, having arrived at Dobodura two days earlier, took over the forward positions of the 2/126th Infantry and, on the morning of 14 December, after concentrated mortar fire, advanced on the village only to find that the Japanese had already abandoned the area. The only positions to the west of Entrance Creek that remained in Japanese hands were at the Coconut Grove, and this was cleared by the 2/128th Infantry with attacks on 16 and 17 November.

On the morning of 20 November, the 16th Brigade, having advanced from Soputa on the Sanananda track, was approaching the vicinity of two track junctions that left the main track for Cape Killerton. In the lead, the 2/1st Battalion came under small arms and artillery fire, and the battalion deployed to the flanks. Two companies under Captain Basil Catterns were tasked to make a broad left-flanking manoeuvre around the Japanese positions astride the road. The remainder of the brigade adjusted itself in support. Catterns’s force skirted the Japanese forward positions and attacked the main Japanese position astride the road as evening approached.

Catterns’s force fought a desperate action through the night and the day of 21 November while the rest of the battalion pressed forward against Japanese positions that were threatened by Catterns’s manoeuvre. The defenders fell back through the night and into the morning. By 08.30 on 21 November, the 2/2nd Battalion and 2/3rd Battalion had moved through the forward companies of the 2/1st Battalion. Catterns’s force had made a small salient in the main Japanese defences. The 2/3rd Battalion pressed forward to relieve Catterns by the early evening, taking position immediately to Catterns’s rear, while his force vacated the position it had been holding. While this seemed prudent at the time, maintaining the position might have been useful for subsequent operations. In Catterns’s initial force of 91 all ranks, five officers and 26 other ranks had been killed, and two officers and 34 other ranks had been wounded. The forward positions delaying the brigade’s immediate advance and a further defensive position were secured by this action.[251]

The Japanese positions were now just to the north of the first track junction and denied the use of this track to Cape Killerton. To either flank was thick jungle and swamp; dispersed through the area were relatively open patches of kunai grass. One patch was immediately forward of the Japanese positions encountered by the 2/1st Battalion on 20 November. After long fighting along the Kokoda Track, the effective strength of the brigade had been reduced to less than the equivalent of one battalion. The US 3/126th Infantry, together with two companies of the 1/126th Infantry, was brought forward on 22 November to make a left-flank manoeuvre similar to that of Catterns. It was tasked to secure the Soputa-Sanananda-Cape Killerton track junction, to the front of 16th Brigade. After a false start on 23 November, the US attack began on the following day. On 30 November, after nearly a week of indecisive skirmishing through the bush, the position which was to become known as 'Huggins' Roadblock' was established on the Sanananda Track, just to the south of the second Cape Killerton track junction. The position had an initial strength of about 250 men.

On 19 November, the 25th Brigade approached Gona Village on the track from Jumbora. Just to the south of the village, the advance of a patrol of the 2/33rd Battalion through a large kunai patch was hampered by the presence of some Japanese infantrymen. The 2/31st Battalion pushed through the kunai and, coming under small arms fire from the direction of the village, deployed to the flanks. The Japanese defence was tenacious and the battalion, now running short of ammunition, broke contact just before 00.00. Having last received supplies at Wariopa on 13 November, the brigade was on the last of its emergency rations and required ammunition. Supplies arrived on 21 November and an attack was planned for the following day, when the 2/33rd Battalion was to advance on the village. Lieutenant Haddy’s company of the 2/16th Battalion was now under command of the 2/31st Battalion, having taken up a position just to the west of the village and Gona Creek.

As the 2/33rd Battalion advanced in the face of strong resistance, the 2/31st Battalion worked around to the east to the beach and attacked on a narrow front, confined laterally by beach and swamp. At the forward Japanese positions, the battalion was driven back by heavy enfilade fire. The 2/25th Battalion was to push through the 2/31st Battalion on 23 November to renew the attack from the east, but made only a small gain before being held and forced to withdraw. The village was bombed on 24 November and the 3rd Battalion attacked on the afternoon of 25 November from the south-west, with mortars and artillery in support. After a small advance, the battalion was halted in front of a small Japanese defensive position. The Japanese at Gona had been highly aggressive in defence, and during the evening of 26 November the 2/33rd Battalion, astride the main track, was counterattacked. These events wholly exhausted the offensive capacity of the 25th Brigade, which had fought the Japanese the length of the Kokoda Track. It had been reinforced by the militiamen of the 3rd Battalion and the three companies of 'Chaforce', an extemporised infantry force formed during the 'Campaign for the Kokoda Track' and nominally of battalion size but consisting of only three companies and a headquarters element. The four battalions possessed just over the strength of one battalion and the 'Chaforce' companies about one-third of a battalion.

Although barely 1,000 men strong, the 21st Brigade was shortly to arrive and was assigned the task of capturing Gona Village with the 25th Brigade in support; recent reinforcements had been kept back in Port Moresby for further training. An attack was ordered for 29 November, even though the last of the brigade’s battalions was not due until the following day, possibly because of intelligence indicating the imminent arrival of Japanese reinforcements. The 2/14th Battalion was to form up at Point 'Y' on the eastern flank and attack along the coastal strip from 'Point X', just to the west of Small Creek, about 1,000 yards (915 m) from the village; the attack was to be preceded by an air raid. A patrol failed to identify strong Japanese positions between Point 'Y' and Point 'X', however, and the 2/14th Battalion was heavily engaged as it moved toward its line of departure. The attack was modified, with the 2/27th Battalion to move directly to Point 'X' and take over the task against the village. The 2/14th Battalion was to concentrate on the force about Small Creek, having skirted a patch of kunai, it was to move easterly from Point 'Y', then to Point 'Z' on the coast, to attack from there. Both attacking battalions met determined resistance and made only small gains on that day.

The 2/16th Battalion arrived on the following day and was deployed to protect the eastern flank and to contribute two companies to a renewed attack against the village. The attacks were met with machine gun fire and while they failed to make any gain, the 2/14th Battalion was able to clear the beach positions. A renewed attack followed on 1 December and the attackers were able to enter the village but, in the face of counterattacks, could not consolidate their gains. While the remaining force maintained pressure on the village, the 2/14th Battalion was tasked to press to the east in the direction of Sanananda. It encountered no resistance except from the impenetrable swamp and an 'over-zealous' Australian pilot, who strafed the whole unit. In five days of fighting, the 21st Brigade had suffered 340 casualties, which was more than one-third of its strength.

The 30th Brigade was then moving to the beach-heads and the 39th Battalion, which had been first to meet the advance of the Japanese across the Kokoda Track, was detached to the 21st Brigade. Though then inexperienced, it had done well and was ably led by Honner. The 25th Brigade was relieved and moved to Port Moresby from 4 December. The 'Chaforce' companies remained. The 2/16th and 2/27th Battalions, so heavily depleted by the recent fighting, were amalgamated into a composite battalion under Lieutenant Colonel Albert Caro. A fresh attack on 6 December, with the 39th Battalion from the south and the composite battalion along the coast, quickly bogged down.

An assault was planned for 8 December, with the main thrust to be provided by the 39th Battalion. This was Brigadier Ivan Dougherty’s last attempt to take Gona. If the attack was unsuccessful, Vasey had decided to contain Gona while concentrating on Sanananda. Aerial bombardment fell mainly on the Australian positions by mistake and the attack was postponed until ater the completion of a 250-round artillery bombardment firing delay-fused ammunition. Honner committed his battalion to attack under the artillery barrage, calculating that his troops would maintain the attack under their own fire and that the barrage would give them an advantage to succeed. The delay fuses were more effective against the Japanese positions and less likely to inflict casualties in the attacking force, compared with instantaneous fuses. The day closed with the Japanese position reduced to a small enclave that was taken the following day, after which Honner sent Dougherty the message that 'Gona’s gone!'

Haddy’s 2/16th 'Chaforce' company had been positioned on the western bank of Gona Creek since 21 November and had dwindled to a strength of 45 all ranks. The company had been protecting the western flank and harassing the Japanese in the village. On 30 November, a 'Chaforce' patrol, at 'Haddy’s' Village, a little to the east of the Amboga river, repulsed a Japanese force of between 150 and 200 men attempting to infiltrate eastward in support of the beach-heads. The Japanese maintained a strong presence in the area and there was an engagement on 7 December. A Japanese force of between 400 and 500 men was operating in the area. Covering the withdrawal of his patrol from the village. Haddy was killed.

The 2/14th Battalion was tasked to protect this flank by patrolling to prevent the Japanese from reinforcing the beach-heads. On 10 December, the 39th Battalion patrolled by a slightly inland route toward 'Haddy’s' Village and met firm resistance from an outer perimeter of defenders to the south of the village. The Australians deployed and engaged the Japanese occupying the village while the 2/14th Battalion, which had been operating from a firm base about half-way between Gona and the village, moved along the coast to join the 39th Battalion. En route, on 11 December it met stiff resistance from Japanese that had occupied a small cluster of huts and its advance toward 'Haddy’s' Village was slowed by a determined defence. What remained of the 2/14th Battalion was placed under Honner’s command and a concerted attack against the village was made on 16 December. Fighting continued until the village had been taken on the morning of 18 December. Some 170 defenders were buried after the attack, but captured documents indicated that a larger force had occupied the village and that many wounded had been evacuated before the final battle. The defenders were men of the 3/170th Regiment that had landed near the mouth of the Kumusi river early in December. After this, the Japanese forces to the west of the beach-heads made no further serious push against the Allied western flank, but Vasey maintained a force in and around Gona to secure this flank and to contain the Japanese defenders at the beach-heads.

On 14 December, the 2/9th Battalion of Wootten’s 18th Brigade arrived at Oro Bay, and was attached to the 32nd Division to take over the Warren Force area, with the 1/126th Infantry, 1/128th Infantry and 3/128th Infantry placed under command. The 2/9th Battalion attacked on 18 December, on a front extending from the eastern end of the New Strip to the coast, pivoting on its left flank. The attack was supported by seven M3 Stuart light tanks of the 2/6th Armoured Regiment and an eighth in reserve. The first phase was the capture of the Duropa Plantation and the area beyond bordered by the Simemi Creek. At the end of the first day, the 2/9th Battalion had lost 11 officers and 160 other ranks, two tanks had been destroyed and one damaged, but the right flank had been advanced to about 400 yards (365 m) to the west of Cape Endaiadere and the front now ran to the north from the eastern end of the New Strip, and on 19 December, the brigade consolidated.

The Japanese had abandoned their positions along the New Strip and forward of the bridge, which the 1/128th Infantry and 1/126th Infantry were able to occupy. In an attack on 20 December, the 2/9th Battalion was strengthened by a company of the 2/10th Battalion, which had embarked at Porlock Harbour on 17 December. On 20 December, the 1/126th Infantry and then a detachment of the 114th Engineer Battalion tried but failed to force the Creek at the bridge. On the following day, the 2/10th Battalion and the two battalions of the 128th Infantry were tasked with making a crossing of the Creek. The 2/10th Battalion, which had concentrated at the western end of the New Strip, achieved this on 22 December about 500 yards (455 m) to the west of the bridge, close to where the Creek returned from making a sharp U bend toward the cape. Having made the crossing in force on 23 December, the 2/10th Battalion then swung left back toward the bridge to occupy the bridgehead by 12.00 with few casualties. US engineers quickly set about making repairs while the 1/126th Infantry crossed the Creek to take up the left flank. By the end of the day, the 2/10th Battalion had advanced about 400 yards (365 m) along the northern side of the Old Strip from where it had crossed the Creek. From there, the front swept back and along the fringe of the swamp toward the bridge. The first phase of Wootten’s plan had come to an end after six days of hard fighting.

On 24 December, the 2/10th Battalion and the 1/126th Infantry were to attack up the Old Strip. Despite the early destruction by a concealed anti-aircraft gun of the four tanks allocated to support the attack, the right flank was able to advance about 600 yards (550 m) after approaching the fringe of the coconut plantation that extended around the coast from the western end of the Old Strip. The 1/128th Infantry had also joined the fighting along the Old Strip during the day. The Australians were being employed as 'shock troops' and relied on the Americans to clear the area behind them as they advanced. The 3/128th Infantry had similarly supported the 2/9th Battalion. On 25 December, an advance by infiltration was attempted but two anti-aircraft guns and their supporting defences were encountered: on 26 December, the first fell silent as it was out of ammunition, and was overrun by the Americans; and the second gun and supporting positions fell only after a bitter struggle. The impetus for the advance on that day had been held by strongly contested positions which ultimately yielded to the tenacity of the attackers, who suffered heavily without the benefit of supporting armour. On 27 December the attackers consolidated the position at the end of the Old Strip, and by the following day most of the Japanese were contained in the coastal strip of coconut plantation from the Simemi Creek at the end of the Old Strip to Giropa Creek, about 880 yards (805 m) from the coast. A plan for 28 December to squeeze the Japanese with a pivot from each flank achieved no decisive result. During the evening, the right flank was counterattacked and the Allies suffered many casualties, while the Japanese raided US positions in depth. An attack was planned for 29 December with newly arrived tanks. The 2/10th Battalion was strengthened by a company of the 2/9th Battalion, but the day ended disastrously with the tanks turning on their own attacking troops.

The 2/12th Battalion was arriving and was tasked to clear the strip of coconut plantation in an attack on 1 January 1943, with six tanks in support and three in reserve. By this time, the 3/128th Infantry had been relieved by the 1/126th Infantry. The fighting continued throughout the day. The last Japanese position had been reduced by 09.55 on 2 January and sporadic fighting continued into the afternoon as the position was cleared. The 2/12th Battalion lost 12 officers and 179 other ranks in these two days of fighting, and the 18th Brigade had lost 55 officers and 808 other ranks since being committed on 18 December.

The bulk of the force occupying the roadblock on the Sanananda Track comprised Company I of the 3/126th Infantry and the regimental anti-tank company, with Captain John Shirley in command. The Japanese forward positions had been enveloped but not isolated by Allied positions, which thus resembled a horseshoe with the ends pointing to the north and the roadblock between the two ends. Companies C and K, at the western end of the horseshoe, were about 1,400 yards (1280 m) to the west of the roadblock. Initially, this provided a base from which to supply the roadblock position. Huggins was leading a ration party to the roadblock on 1 December when, shortly after his arrival, Shirley was killed. Huggins then took command of the force but was wounded and evacuated from the position on 8 December.

The Americans mounted an attack against the enveloped Japanese positions on 5 December without success. It became apparent that reinforcements were needed and Brigadier S. H. W. C. Porter’s 30th Brigade (less the 39th Battalion) was assigned this task for 7 December. The 49th Battalion was allocated the right side of the track and was to attack in the morning, while the 55th/53rd Battalion, allocated the left side, was to attack in the afternoon. Both attacks made little progress but suffered heavy casualties, though the 49th Battalion did link with parts of the 2/2nd Battalion in positions near the far right end of the horseshoe of positions. Until the middle of December and the arrival of the 2/7th Cavalry Regiment and the 36th Battalion, the forces deployed on the track adopted a policy of patrolling and infiltrating the Japanese positions.

The 36th Battalion took over positions astride the track on 18 December, with the 55th/53rd and 49th Battalions shuffling left and right respectively. Attacks were to be made by these two battalions on the following day against the Japanese forward positions, with the 36th Battalion in reserve. The 2/7th Cavalry Regiment had circled left to advance to Huggins' that night, to launch an attack in the morning along the track and press on to Sanananda. Having lost many of its junior officers and non-commissioned officers, the attack by the 55th/53rd Battalion was soon held. The 49th Battalion was able to push forward, mainly along the Japanese flank, to the vicinity of the roadblock position. Renewed attacks by the 49th Battalion with support from part of the 36th Battalion were checked. An attempt by the 36th Battalion on 21 December to push through from positions gained by the 49th Battalion made little progress.

The 2/7th Cavalry Regiment was able to advance about 450 yards (410 m) before meeting strong resistance, which also threatened the flanks of its advance. By the fall of night, Captain James and about 100 men were able to establish a perimeter about 400 yards (410 m) from Huggins', and most of the remaining force was able to fall back to Huggins'. The attacking forces continued to patrol vigorously on 20 and 21 December. While the attacks failed to capture the forward position or achieve a breakthrough along the track, they isolated another cluster of Japanese posts between Huggins' and the fresh roadblock position occupied by James. There was now also a line of posts along the eastern flank to Huggins', manned by the 49th Battalion. This then became the line of communication and supply for the roadblock positions. It was clear that the reinforcements were insufficient to force a decision on the Sanananda track. There were no more Australian forces available for the beach-heads unless the defences elsewhere in New Guinea were stripped. The US 163rd Infantry of the 41st Division was on its way to the beach-heads and the 18th Brigade, with the tanks of the 2/6th Armoured Regiment, would be released from the 32nd Division when Buna fell. This would not relieve the situation on the Sanananda track until early in the new year and patrolling continued during this lull.

After the fall of Buna Village on 14 December, the 2/128th Infantry had cleared the Coconut Grove by 12.00 on 17 December after starting its attack on the previous day. On 18 December, an attempt was made by the 3/128th Infantry to advance on the Government Station by crossing to Musita island. The advance across the island was unopposed but was then driven back off the island by heavy fire as it attempted to cross the bridge at the eastern end. An attempt by the 2/126th Infantry was made on the Triangle on 19 December from near the bridge over Entrance Creek, driving to the south, but was a costly failure. On 20 December, the 2/127th Infantry crossed the creek at the Coconut Grove under cover of smoke, but the attack then became confused and came to an end. Urbana Force had made no progress in three days.

A bridgehead was to be made across Entrance Creek, about half-way between the island and the Triangle, with the attack pressing through the government gardens and bypassing the Triangle. A crossing was made by the 3/127th Infantry in assault boats on the night of 21 December and a bridge was then built by which five companies were able to cross on 24 December. A bridge at the south-western end of Musita island was repaired and the occupation of the island by 12.00 on 23 December was uneventful. An advance across the government gardens along an axis slightly to the north of east on 24 December was planned, and the attack became a small unit action by companies without a clear distinction between battalions. On 24 December, the right and centre attacks bogged down. However, on the left, a platoon advanced to the sea, but here found itself isolated, out of contact and under fire from its own guns, and thus forced to withdraw. A renewed effort was joined by parts of the 1/127th Infantry, which was just arriving. The attack on 25 December produced a result similar to that of the previous day but this time, two companies were able to establish a perimeter about 300 yards (275 m) from the sea and 600 yards (550 m) from the Government Station. The position was isolated and strongly contested by the Japanese. By 28 December, the position had been consolidated and progress had been made in the centre and on the right. By this time, it had been found that the Japanese had abandoned the Triangle. Also on 28 December, the 3/128th Infantry tried to force a bridgehead from Musita island in assault boats, but this failed when the artillery cover lifted as the boats were in mid-stream.

On the night of 29 December, it was discovered that the Japanese were no longer contesting an approach to the Government Station across the spit to seaward of Musita island. Plans were made to exploit this with an attack early on 31 December, approaching from the spit and from the bridge on Musita island. Irresponsible firing alerted the Japanese of the approach along the spit. however, and the inexperienced company of the 2/127th Infantry broke under fire after the company commander had been wounded. Disaster was averted only by the intervention of the regimental commander, Colonel Grose, who rallied the troops. The second of the companies committed along this axis was 'more resolute' and a beach-head was secured. On 1 January 1943, Urban Force attacked the Government Station and by 2 January, some Japanese troops were breaking to the sea. By the middle of the afternoon, the advances from the coast and the bridge had met, and the final Japanese positions were captured later that afternoon and a link established with the Australians on the right flank.

With the fall of Buna, the 32nd Division was to press on against the Japanese at Sanananda and Giruwa from the east while the 18th Brigade and tanks of the 2/6th Armoured Regiment were to join the 7th Division at the Sanananda track, with the 163rd Infantry also joining at the track. On 22 December, the headquarters of the 21st Brigade and the 39th Battalion moved from Gona to the Sanananda track, where the 49th Battalion and 2/7th Cavalry Regiment came under command and the 39th Battalion relieved the Americans occupying Huggins' roadblock. The Australian battalions properly belonging to the brigade remained in the Gona area, to be known as 'Goforce', under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Challen. The Americans of the 126th Infantry which remained were under command of the 30th Brigade but were returned to the 32nd Division at Buna on 9 January.

On the night of 2/3 January, the arrival of the 163rd Infantry made possible a general reshuffle. The Americans took over the positions then held by the Australians under command of the 21st Brigade. These Australian units then came under command of the 30th Brigade and relieved the 36th Battalion and 55th/53rd Battalion, which were placed under command of the newly arrived headquarters of Brigadier W. E. Smith’s 14th Brigade, which assumed the responsibilities of 'Goforce'. Thus relieved, the 21st Brigade and its battalions returned to Port Moresby. On the morning of 10 January, the 18th Brigade took the 2/7th Cavalry Regiment under command and occupied the positions held by the 39th Battalion and 49th Battalion of the 30th Brigade, in preparation for an attack on 12 January.

Leading up to this, Colonel Jens A. Doe, commanding the 163rd Infantry, tried to force the Japanese positions between the two roadblocks. The attack by the 1/163rd Infantry on 8 January was met fiercely and thrown back by the defenders. On 9 January, the 2/163rd Infantry deployed through Huggins' (known as 'Musket' by the 163rd Infantry) to a position on the Killerton track. The battalion established a roadblock in close contact with Japanese positions to the south. This position was slightly south of west from Huggins' and was known as 'Rankin', after the battalion commander.

On 12 January, the 2/9th and 2/12th Battalions, each reinforced with a company from the 2/10th Battalion attacked the forward Japanese positions along the Sanananda Track. Three tanks were allocated to support the attack with one in reserve. Unable to manoeuvre, the tanks were quickly knocked out by a concealed gun and the attack was repulsed, particularly by the Japanese on the left, in front of the 2/12th Battalion but the Japanese abandoned the forward positions that had barred the track to Cape Killerton. The positions south of Huggins' were abandoned over the nights of 12 and 13 January.

The 127th Infantry had been tasked to advance along the coast toward Sanananda and Giruwa from Buna, and a beach-head had been established at Siwori, but at dusk on 4 January the Japanese attacked the US advanced position forward of the village, forcing back the Americans. Two companies crossed Siwori Creek on the morning of 5 January and advanced toward Tarakena, against a Japanese delaying action, reaching the village on the evening of 8 January. The fast-flowing Konombi Creek, immediately to the west of the village, was covered by fire and represented a significant obstacle to any farther advance. A bridgehead was secured by 10 January but the country beyond was impassable because, at high tide, the sea and swamp merged.The 32nd Division’s advance then paused until 15 January.

The 18th Brigade advanced toward Cape Killerton on the morning of 15 January with the 2/10th Battalion leading, but the going became very heavy as the track passed through swamp. The beach was reached on the next day and Wye Point by the evening of the same day, and here the battalion encountered the outer defences of a strong position. Leaving Rankin, the 2/163rd Infantry followed in the wake of the 18th Brigade. It left the Killerton track at the coconut grove, a little less than half-way to Cape Killerton, to find the second, more easterly Killerton track. On 16 January, the battalion moved to the south along the second track to support of the rest of the regiment. It approached the Japanese positions near James' (known as 'Fisk' or 'Kano' by the 163rd Infantry) from the rear and linked with the 1/163rd Infantry. The 2/12th Battalion advanced to the east from the coconut grove on the Killerton track for the main Sanananda track to press along this track to Sanananda, which it had reached by 11.30 on 17 January. The 2/9th struck to the east from the Killerton track, through the village. It paralleled the coast before striking to the north-east for Sanananda, bypassing the Japanese coastal defences to the east of Wye Point, before coming to a halt just short of the Sanananda village positions for the night.

The positions between Huggins' and James' were reduced on 16 January by the 163rd Infantry, which also enveloped the Japanese positions to the front of James'. This was the last of the cluster that had held the advance of the Australians along the track. After patrolling back along the second Killerton track to meet with the rest of the regiment, the 2/163rd Infantry skirted east to the main Sanananda track and advanced along this until it linked with the 2/12th Battalion. Having found the track clear, it returned to the regiment, which was detained by the task before it until 22 January.

On the morning of 18 January, the 2/9th Battalion approached Sanananda village through swamp from the south-west. This unlikely approach was not strongly defended and the village had fallen by 13.00. The battalion then cleared Sanananda Point and the area to the east to the Giruwa river before the fall of night. After pausing at Konombi Creek, the 127th Infantry resumed its advance on 16 January and made steady progress, taking Giruwa on 21 January and linking with the Australians already on the Giruwa river.

By the evening of 17 January, the 2/12th Battalion was astride the Sanananda track and had linked with A Company of the 2/10th Battalion, which had earlier been directed to patrol to the track from Killerton village. On 18 January, the battalion advanced to the north toward Sanananda, but met determined resistance which could not be overcome that day despite three attacks. On 19 January, positions on the western side of the track were taken by A Company of the 2/10th Battalion, which had been detached temporarily to the 2/12th Battalion. Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Arnold, commanding the 2/12th Battalion, described this feat as 'one of the outstanding features of this phase of the campaign'. The battalion was able to link with a company of the 2/9th Battalion that had been lending assistance from the north end of the track. Defences on the eastern side of the track resisted the efforts of the attackers that day and the following but on the morning of 21 January, only the sick and wounded manned the position and offered little resistance.

The 2/10th Battalion encountered stubborn resistance in its advance from Wye Point, compounded by extremely difficult terrain. The strip separating the sea from the swamp was only a few feet wide at high tide and not much more at low tide. Progress was painfully slow, with the only effective fire support coming from mortars, and even this was limited since the ammunition had to be man-packed forward. Having cleared Sanananda, the 2/9th Battalion pushed west in support of the 2/10th Battalion, initially with one company. By 20 January, only 300 yards (275 m) separated the two battalions, but it was not until 13.15 on 22 January that it was reported that the forces had linked and that organised resistance had come to an end.

Although the main fighting was over, significant numbers of Japanese remained at large about the beach-heads and had to be killed or captured over the following days. The 14th Brigade clashed sharply with bands of fugitives in the Amboga river area. The remaining regiments of the 41st Division were moved forward to relieve the depleted Allied forces and had to deal with the remnants of the Japanese forces around the Kumusi river. Dobodura was developed as a major forward air base, supported by improved harbour facilities at Oro Bay.

Australian battle casualties had been 3,471 men, with 1,204 killed or died of wounds and 66 missing, presumed dead. This does not include those who were evacuated sick. From a total strength of 13,645, the US ground forces suffered 671 men killed in action, 116 other deaths, 2,172 wounded and 7,920 sick, for a total of 10,879 casualties. The 163rd Infantry suffered 88 men killed and 238 wounded. Overall, about 60,000 Americans fought on Guadalcanal, suffering 5,845 casualties, including 1,600 men killed. In Papua more than 33,000 Americans and Australians fought, and these suffered 8,546 casualties, of whom 3,095 were killed. On Guadalcanal, one in 37 died, while troops in New Guinea had a one in 11 chance of dying.

During the 'Campaign for the Kokoda Track', Horii’s South Seas Detachment had been ordered to withdraw, or euphemistically 'advance in another direction'. At Gorari, the well-ordered withdrawal collapsed under the pressure applied by the 7th Division. For the defence of Buna, orders were given by the Japanese that 'It is essential for the execution of future operations that the Buna area be secured.' The determination and tenacity of the Japanese defenders was, to Western perceptions, unprecedented to the point of being 'fanatical', and had not previously been encountered. It was to mark the conduct of further battles throughout the war.

Estimating the Japanese losses is as difficult as determining the strength of their force. Japanese sources give their losses at about 8,000. More than 200 prisoners, including 159 Japanese, were taken at Gona and Sanananda. At Buna, only 50 prisoners, most of them non-Japanese labourers, were taken. However, the victory 'was not as complete as could be desired' as many of the able-bodied Japanese troops escaped.

Several analysts have questioned whether it was necessary to engage the Japanese in a costly battle or whether they could have been contained and reduced by starvation. But it is generally agreed that a battle was necessary and that a victory was necessary for the Allies and not just MacArthur. It is difficult not to question, however, whether or not this victory could have been achieved without the losses that were incurred. It is clear that undue pressure for haste exacerbated the Allies losses, and it is also apparent that the process of pinching off or infiltrating the Japanese defences produced results where repeated assaults failed to produce any gain. The losses suffered by the Australian forces limited their offensive capacity for several months following the battle.

There were many valuable, albeit costly, lessons gained through the campaign, which proved to be a massive learning experience for the Allies. These lessons came to form the core of doctrines and tactics employed by the Australian army throughout the remainder of the war.